Bells jingled, faintly, as homeless outreach workers from the Community Health Association of Spokane read the names. Each belonged to a homeless person in Spokane who died this year.
CHAS has held an annual memorial for homeless people for at least 15 years. The organization got its start in Spokane providing medical care for homeless people and has since expanded into a community health organization.
“We’re all privileged to honor these individuals. No one should die homeless,” said Dr. Bill Lockwood, CHAS’ chief medical officer.
About 150 people attended the ceremony Wednesday, held in the parking lot outside CHAS’ downtown Denny Murphy clinic.
“We stand outside for this ceremony because those we are remembering too often did not have a roof over their heads,” Lockwood said.
Outreach workers Johnnie Beans and Ilze Zarins-Ilgen alternated reading the names, 33 in total. Audience members walked up to a table with two small wooden trees on it, hanging a tag with a bell attached for each person who died.
Billy West, a homeless man living at the House of Charity, attended to honor Ron Wallace, a friend he met in jail who later stayed with him at the House of Charity.
Wallace died March 12, according to a list of names collected by outreach workers. West said he was a kindhearted man who used a wheelchair.
“He told me there were times people would rob him and knocked him out of his chair,” West said. “I always wondered what happened to him, and now I know.”
Outreach workers learn about deaths throughout the year from shelters and other service providers, Beans said. The causes of death vary: exposure, drug overdoses, cancer and other medical conditions.
Hospitals also call them if they have a patient who’s homeless and dying.
“A lot of times we’re the last people there with them if they don’t have family,” Beans said.
Organizers said the event was better attended this year than last, with many more attendees who were unaffiliated with CHAS. The organization serves about 5,000 homeless people per year.
“Whether they are staying in shelters or in cars or under bridges, they are members of our community,” Lockwood said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.